Sunday, November 23, 2014
Brother Andre: The Humble Doorman
In Montreal's district of Côte-des-Neiges, The Oratory of St. Joseph rises on the north slope of Mount Royal. Its construction began in 1924, but it was not inaugurated until March 19, 1955.
At 124 m., it is higher than both St. Paul's in London (111 m) and Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris (90 m). In 2005 the Oratory was added to the List of National Historic Sites of Canada on the occasion of its 100th anniversary. But the story of the man behind the Oratory is even more amazing.
Alfred Bessette's Early Life
Alfred Bessette was born August 9, 1845 in Saint-Grégoire d'Iberville, a small town southeast of Montreal, Quebec, Canada. He was the eighth child in a family of twelve and both his parents died when he was still a child. Little Alfred, now an orphan, found work in villages nearby and later went to work in the mills of New England.
After returning to Canada in 1867 (the year of Canada's Confederation) he joined the Congregation of the Holy Cross. At first, the Congregation, a teaching order, was somewhat reluctant to accept the frail and uneducated Alfred but in the end they did. He took the name of Brother André and was given the job of doorman (or porter) at Notre Dame College. He also rang the school bells and helped in the laundry and the infirmary. Throughout his life he suffered from stomach pains and was unable to eat much of the food served at the school but he never complained.
A Doorman at Notre Dame College
As a doorman he had the opportunity to meet many people and when talking to them they often gave him prayer requests. He would lay these prayers before St. Joseph, the Virgin Mary's husband, and many were cured of their illnesses. Brother André became well-known because of these cures even though he insisted, "It is not me, God is responsible, Saint Joseph is responsible."
The Chapel is Built
In 1904 Brother André and his friends built a small chapel across the street from the College in honour of St. Joseph. For twenty-five years Brother André received visitors in his tiny office connected to the chapel. The chapel and Brother André's room nearby are still there and are visited by over two million people each year.
Construction of the Basilica
Eventually the chapel was too small for the daily stream of sick and needy people coming to see the doorman for prayer. After several expansions of the chapel, work on a crypt was begun and in 1924 workers began to construct the basilica.
When the Depression hit in 1936, many felt the work should be stopped. Brother André, however, declared that, since it was not his work but that of St. Joseph, they should place the statue of St. Joseph in the unfinished shrine. "If he wishes to be covered, he'll take care of it." In two months people had given enough money to continue construction.
Brother Andre's Death
Brother André died two months later on January 6, 1937 and nearly a million people lined up to pay respects to the little doorman of Notre Dame College.
In 1978, Brother André was declared venerable and in 1982, Pope John Paul II declared him blessed. On October 17, 2010 the 'humble doorman' was canonized (the final step of sainthood) by Pope Benedict XVI in Rome.
Dubuc, Jean-Guy Brother André and Saint Joseph's Oratory of Mount Royal. Strasboug, France: Editions du Signe. 1995.
Turcotte, Jean-Claude Cardinal. Montreal's Porter and Heaven's Gatekeeper. in Lampstand. Toronto: Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation. Fall, 2010.